The notion that there should be seven days of the week, each named after celestial bodies in astronomy, was adopted by the Greeks and then by the Romans.
They were one of several civilizations in Late Antiquity to adapt these deities to their own belief systems.
The word in English for the fifth day of the week, Friday, was Aphrodite to the Greeks and Venus to the Romans, in each case, the goddess of love and beauty.
In Romance languages, the day is named after derivatives of Venus, vendredi, venerdì, and so on.
The process of Germanic societies using their own deities to replace Roman gods and goddesses probably took place around the first century, but this is a source of great academic conjecture.
Interpretatio germanica, as it's called, is best illustrated by the names of the days of the week, which we use in English today.
Friday is derived from the Germanic goddess of marriage, motherhood, and clairvoyance, Frigg or Frigga.
Frigg or Freyja?
Wife of Óðr in Nordic mythology and possibly the god Odin, too, Frigg has several variations across the Germanic world, Frija in Old High German, Frig in Old English, and Fri in Old Saxon. Whether she is the same deity as the Scandinavian Freyja has long been the subject of great debate.
Certainly, there are plenty of similarities, and in terms of her remit as a goddess. A common trait shared between the Germanic Frigg and the Nordic Freyja is that of weaving.
Norse Freyja, from the group of gods known as Vanir, is most associated with fertility and clairvoyance. She is cited in both the Prose Edda and the Poetic Edda, the latter work of a series of narrative poems in Old Norse, considered a masterpiece of world literature. Both are vital sources for our contemporary knowledge of Norse mythology.
Both date back to the 1200s CE. The earliest known manuscript of the prosaic work, known simply as Edda until the Poetic one was compiled, is kept at the University Library in Uppsala, Sweden.
It dates back to around a century after Edda was written by Icelandic historian and poet Snorri Sturluson as an instructive textbook on the poetic meter for later authors. A slightly later copy can be found at the Árni Magnússon Institute for Icelandic Studies in Reykjavík.
The so-called Prose Edda is laid out in four volumes and begins with a prologue in which both Odin and his wife are described as being gifted with second sight.
The Poetic Edda, while a later manuscript, relies on earlier material for its sources. Some narrative poems are reproduced in the extremely rare Codex Regius, written in the 1270s but only discovered in 1643.
Containing 31 poems, it too is held in the Árni Magnússon Institute for Icelandic Studies.
How the world was created
The best-known, also quoted in the Prose Edda, involves Freyja. Völuspá describes the creation of the world and its rebirth, as related by a lady seer or völva, to Odin.
Raised by ancient giants, she describes an empty world before the sons of Burr raised the Earth from the sea and the AEsir, a clan of gods separate from the Vanir, set in place the stars, sun, and moon.
During the creation of the first man and woman, Ask and Embla, and Yggdrasil, the World Tree, the AEsir and the Vanir come to blows.
The origins of Freyja, being handed to the giants, are then related, as well as the tale of how the one-eyed Odin lost half his sight in the pursuit of knowledge.
Then the seer reveals the terrible battles that took place, most notably between Odin and Fenrir, usually interpreted as a wolf, and Freyja and the swarthy, sword-wielding Surtr, who smites her as his weapon outshines the sun.
From all this devastation, a whole new world emerges, the corpses carried away by Níðhöggr, the dragon.
Völuspá dates back to the mid-900s before Iceland adopted Christianity a century later. Certain scholars argue that some poems show influences of Christianity creeping in, dovetailing with original Norse paganism.
The Norse goddess Freyja is most associated with fertility and clairvoyance. Illustration: The Viking Herald
Necklaces, cats, and chariots
Freyja appears again in the poem Þrymskviða, in which she allows Thor the use of her cloak as he searches for his missing hammer, Mjölnir. It has been stolen by the god Þrym, who demands the hand of Freyja in return for it.
So furious that she drops her gleaming necklace, Brísingamen, Freyja duly refuses. With the situation unresolved and Thor still without his hammer, the gods decide that Thor himself should dress as a bride, Brísingamen and all, but he almost gives himself away by his uncouth behavior at the wedding feast. Finally, Mjölnir is produced, and Thor attacks Þrym and recovers his hammer.
Brísingamen is only one of numerous accouterments with which Freyja is equipped. Dressed in her cloak of feathers cited in Þrymskviða, she rides a chariot pulled by two cats, alongside the wild boar Hildisvíni.
By Óðr, or possibly Odin, she has two daughters, Nnoss and Gersemi, as well as a twin brother, Freyr, also associated with fertility. Her father Njörðr, cited in both the Prose and Poetic Edda, is a god of the sea and fishing. Her mother, Skaði, possibly Njörðr's sister, is goddess of bowhunting and skiing.
Another of Edda's verses, Grímnismál, involves Freyja and Odin observing their foster children from the vantage point of Hliðskjálf, their lofty view into the world below. One of them, Geirröth, is supposedly being mean towards his guests.
Freyja duly sends her maid and confidante, Fulla, to meet the errant adopted son and convince him that a magician would soon arrive, whose presence would scare away the most ferocious dog. When Grímnir appears, he is captured and tortured by fire, proving Geirröth's bad intentions.
What he doesn't know is that Grímnir is, in fact, Odin in disguise, pulled from the flames but too late to save the doomed Geirröth. His son Agnarr, who had already shown kindness to the torture victim, then assumes the mantle of king.
Heavenly halls and opera
While Odin has his Valhalla, the hall where half of those slain in combat are transported, Freyja presides over Sessrúmnir, where the other half go, chosen and then guided by the valkyries.
It stands in Fólkvangr, Freyja's heavenly field – it is probably no coincidence that several plant names in southern Sweden are derived from the one for the Norse goddess.
While Christianisation swept away pagan beliefs, the name of Freyja carried over centuries later into folklore, folk songs, and sayings.
She was depicted in works of art, drama, and poetry and is a character in Wagner's Der Ring des Nibelungen, representing the goddess of love, youth, and beauty, usually played by an ample soprano.
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